Opals count down to Olympics
Laine Clark
17:23 AEST Sat Jul 23 2011
Australia's women's basketball team, The Opals during a game.
The Opals will begin their countdown to the London Olympics with a three-game series against China.

Star power may be low but expectations are high for the Opals in their three-match women's basketball series against China in Queensland starting on Sunday.

WNBA superstars Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor are not available but Opals coach Carrie Graf is still predicting big things from her understrength squad in the crucial series, which tips off in Logan, south of Brisbane.

The showdown with the Asian powerhouse officially begins the Opals' London Olympics countdown.

It is a warm-up for September's Oceania series against New Zealand - the winner gains direct entry into the 2012 Games.

Her big names may be missing but Graf hoped to unearth some stars of the future against China, Beijing Olympic semi-finalists.

"Every time we are in a training camp or in a series it is a selection opportunity for players no matter where they are sitting on the pecking order," Graf said of her young squad.

Apart from Jackson and Taylor, the Opals will also be without young gun Liz Cambage - featuring in this weekend's WNBA All Star game - and fellow WNBA rising star Jenna O'Hea.

Others set to return to the team for the Oceania series are injured duo Kristi Harrower and Samantha Richards.

World No.3 Australia will be desperate to finally strike Olympic gold in London - something the US have denied them at the last three Games in epic finals.

The Opals will also be desperate to atone for finishing fifth at the 2010 world championships - their worst performance at a major tournament in nearly 20 years.

But Graf said her sole focus was qualifying for London.

"That is the main thing and this series (against China) is preparation for the qualifiers," she said.

Dual Olympic silver-medallist Suzy Batkovic returns to the Australian side for the first time since the Beijing Games to bolster the depleted Opals against China.

She adds much needed experience along with veteran guard Kristen Veal and 2010 world championship team members Abby Bishop and Marianna Tolo.

They line up against a Chinese outfit boasting WNBA star Miao Lijie and former WNBA centre Chen Nan, as well as 207cm giant Wei Wei.

"China are a world class basketball outfit - it's going to be a great challenge," Graf said.

Australia will also take on China on July 28 in Townsville and in Cairns on July 30.

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